A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Manoeuvring in Hexes

Tinkering-around time again. If hexes bring you out in a rash, I recommend you go and read something else!

As any regular readers will know, I mostly play Commands & Colors: Napoleonics these days, with miniatures, and am very happy with those rules, though I have to make the occasional adjustment to them to suit a particular game.

Principal areas where these adjustments are called upon are:

(1) I mostly play solo – standard game can be compromised by lack of surprises…

(2) The published scenarios give balanced games, with the armies set up all ready to start fighting; I very rarely use these scenarios, and a lot of my games – especially in campaigns – require the bringing up of reserves, sometimes off-table reserves, or rapid deployment of big groups; though there are a couple of the Command Cards which allow rapid movement of large formations, C&CN is not well suited to this kind of action without some special add-ons

(3) Any game which is not clearly across-the-table and divided sensibly into Left, Centre and Right doesn’t fit the Command Card system

(4) A couple of other things which I remember when I see them, but I can’t find all my notes as I sit here…

The whole philosophy of C&CN is that the game moves quickly – you can see the battle develop; the turns are short and very limited, but you get lots of them in quick succession – a battle on a standard-sized board/table (13 x 9 hexes) should last about 2 hours. To enable this, some very clever mechanisms are employed, and a degree of simplification which may be seen as a turn-off by unbelievers – the C-in-C does not concern himself with the exact formation of each unit, nor the placing of skirmishers – with a couple of exceptions (notably squares) this stuff is left to the regimental officers. In C&CN we do not form units into lines or columns, we do not even concern ourselves with which way a unit is facing – if they are still on the table, we assume they are getting on with doing what they are supposed to be doing, and if the combats go disastrously against us then maybe one of the contributory reasons was a lack of tactical skill at unit level – the C-in-C will never know, but it’s a handy excuse if needed…

That is all very fine, and I am very content with the approach, but I used to play an in-house (computer-managed) game called Elan, which also used hexes, and that allowed some tactical manoeuvring and suchlike; I would never suggest that Elan was even half as successful as C&CN as a game, but the tactical bit was rather fun, and it would be nice to do some of that again from time to time.

I have some other tweaks, some of which I have discussed here before, which involve alternative (dice based) activation systems instead of the Command Cards, with a rapid-movement option involving faster marching when distant from the enemy, and the ability to give orders to an entire brigade as a single entity, provided it has been kept together and in good order.

Recently I have been re-reading Neil Thomas’s Napoleonic rules (and especially some very fine work done by Jay “OldTrousers” and others on fitting Neil’s game onto a hex grid), the White Mountain Thirty Years War rules (which are a cousin of C&C Ancients), which allow for units to have a direction of facing, and my own Elan game (the movement aspects of which worked very comfortably for some 25 years before I ever heard of C&C, and which are logically very similar to what Jay set out on his blog).

Two further thoughts  - tickles at the back of my brain – to give the idea.

(1) Just looking at the four wooden blocks in a C&CN infantry regiment (or bases in the miniatures version), I have often often thought it would be possible to form them into a line or a column, though the blocks don’t make it clear which way the guys are facing, and the very idea is a heresy and would cause Richard Borg to shudder.

(2) I did consider just trying Jay’s hexified version of Neil Thomas’s game, as he has set it out. Two slight issues with that – the scale of the board and the size of the actions don’t really fit what I am likely to want to do. Also the C&CN combat dice, with (Hallelujah!) the built-in retreat system (which does away with the dreaded industry of morale testing) would be sadly missed.

Thus I have come around to my current plan, which is to have an alternative to pure C&CN available for games which could make use of it – this is not, repeat NOT, intended as an improvement on C&CN, nor as any kind of replacement. My present thinking is to use C&CN’s combat dice system, with as few alterations as possible, with a modified movement and manoeuvre system and with a dice-based activation system allowing brigade-sized groups to be activated. Yes, this does away with much of the beauty of C&CN, so I do not pretend this is a variant of C&CN – it is merely another game which uses a C&CN-style board and C&CN combat dice. I emphasise that the movement and frontage rules set out here are based on my old Elan game, and that it needs a fair amount of work (especially in the skirmishing department). Today I’m just intending to cover the formations-and-facing rules.

One preliminary note, and it may bring a few hoots from friends who know of my aversion to morale testing: formation changes and changes to front can be ordered, but they may also be attempted, out of turn, as a reaction to an enemy attack. It would be pointless to allow this to be successful on all occasions, and the reality would be that the better units would have a greater chance of success, so – yes, despite all my normal stance on this – these rules require a reaction test. I introduce this reluctantly, and I make a point of keeping it as bovinely simple as possible. When required to react to an attack, by changing formation or facing, a unit will have to score not less than a certain number on 1D6 – troops have 4 basic classes, thus:

1 – The Old Guard, certain very special elites
2 – Steady, reliable, trained troops
3 – Poorly trained, demotivated or raw troops
4 – Militia and levies, dross

"No, no - we are Class 2, and don't you forget it..."
The class of the unit will be improved (reduced) by 1 if a Leader is present, and worsened (increased) by 1 for each casualty counter. The test will be to equal or beat the altered Troop Class with 1D6. Thus, for example, Class 3 troops with a general need a 2 or better to allow them to react successfully; Class 1 troops with 2 casualty markers need a 3 or better. Simple as I could make it. One further detail I am thinking is to add a rule that a straight roll of 1 is always a failure, so the Guard may sometimes let you down, and a straight 6 is always a success, however desperate the situation.

With a nervous cough, I move on hastily.

Units must face a vertex (point) of a hex, as in C&CN. The two sides of the hex on either side of this vertex represent the unit’s front, and they may move, fire or melee only in that direction. They may, however, turn – according to the following, which I’ll come back to later.

(1) as it enters a new hex, a unit may turn by 60 degrees either way – i.e. to the next vertex – without penalty

(2) any bigger turn, or any stationary turn (i.e. turning on the spot before any movement) takes an amount of time equivalent to 1 hex of movement

Some additional points, before we get into the detail of movement allowances and so on:

(a) charges to combat must be straight ahead – there may be a preliminary turn if the movement allowance permits one, but a charge cannot wheel as it goes in

(b) this is similar to the normal Zone of Control idea familiar in boardgames – a unit entering a hex adjacent to an enemy must stop – they cannot slither around an enemy unit to reach a flank. Note that this does not apply for attacks on units in built up areas or woods, or squares, none of which have flanks or rear.

(c) units attacked in flank or rear who do not manage to react and turn are worse off in two ways – the enemy gets an extra die, and they themselves do not get to fight back – again, squares and units in towns and woods do not have flanks or rear.

(d) skirmishers don’t have a front either

Move Distances

Squares, unlimbered artillery                                                      zero (though may change formation)

Infantry in line                                                                            1 hex

Infantry in column, skirmishers, limbered foot artillery             2 hexes

Cavalry, generals, horse artillery                                                 3 hexes

Units in column of march may add 1 hex of movement if their entire turn of movement is on a road (otherwise terrain effects are pretty much as C&CN)

Change of formation, and any stationary turn, or turn greater than 60 degrees costs 1 hex of movement. Limbering and unlimbering is a change of formation.

Unit Types (note that scenario rules may limit this – e.g. some nations are not allowed to use column of attack)

Close-Order Infantry

Column of March - bases one behind the other - this formation gets a bonus on a road, and can march through a wood or town at normal speed, without stopping, but cannot fight or fight back unless the unit changes formation

Column of Attack - 2 bases wide - this formation can shoot only with the front row of bases, but may melee with 2 rows of bases. Note that, in all formations of all fighting units, the number of bases able to take part in a combat is limited to the original number less any casualty markers. The casualty markers are especially useful here, since keeping the bases on the table allows the formation to be indicated. A unit is removed, of course, when the number of casualty markers is equal to the number of bases (duh).

Line - single row of bases - all bases may shoot, but only bases engaged (i.e. same width as opponent) may melee

3-deep Line - I'm still considering this as an option - one-third of bases (to nearer whole number) are in a second row - front row of bases may fire, in melee formation fights with front row bases engaged (as Line above) plus 1 base

 Square - may not move - has no front - each base may shoot once per turn, through an adjacent face of the hex - melee rules are as near to C&CN as I can make them

Unformed - this is just a proposal at this stage - I am thinking that infantry in a town or a wood must be unformed (unless they are in Column of March, passing through) - up to one half the bases may fire through any one hex face per turn - each base may only fire once - melee? - not sure - I think all bases may fight in a town or wood, otherwise an unformed unit in the open fights with half bases. Still working on this...

Light Infantry

First off, let me say that French légère are just classified as line infantry in my games. Actual light infantry appear in two forms:

(1) units such as British or Spanish lights are capable of acting in close order or sending skirmishers out with supports
(2) units of converged voltigeurs or light companies are different - the only formations permitted for these are Column of March or Skirmish Order, in which latter they may be deployed with other, close-order units as a screen - I'm still working on skirmish rules, so this bit is a work in progress

Let's look at the dual-purpose light regiments first - in my organisation, these consist of two normal, line-infantry type, close-order bases, and two, half-strength, open order. Thus a battalion with a total strength of 3 bases may be deployed in the following ways:

With the open-order bases tucked away to the rear, here's a light unit in Column of March, mimicking their normal close-order brethren

They can also be a close-order unit in Column of Attack...

... or in Line (I haven't got a "3-deep" version of this)...

... or in Square.

Or they can do this special trick, which is deploying with skirmishers to the front, supports standing to the rear.

They can probably do Unformed as well, though I didn't bother with a picture.

Now consider the converged units of light companies - these only have two real formations...

...Column of March, if they wish to go along a road in a hurry...

... or in skirmish order, in which case they can be added as a screen to other units - the skirmish rules are still being worked on. Skirmishers caught in melee by close-order troops do not do well - they are just eliminated. Skirmishers, by the way, do not have a front - they can fire or move in any direction, and can hide behind friends if they need to.


Cavalry have only two formations...

... Column of March (can't fight in this formation)...

... or a formation which is Everything Else - it might be Line, or a series of Lines, or Waves or whatever you want - the whole regiment gets to fight in a melee.

Cavalry also move far enough to give a demonstration of how the turning rule works:

First of all, here's an infantry column demonstrating the move straight forward - the unit may follow either of the two red arrows, and move into either of two hexes, still facing in the same direction - having moved forward in this way, the unit may, if it wishes, turn up to 60 degrees in either direction at no extra penalty - they are regarded as having "wheeled" as they entered the hex.

Cavalry have a 3-hex move - here's an illustration of one of the many possible moves the rules would allow. The unit advances (red arrow) into the next hex, and gets a free wheel (of 60 degrees) to the right (the new facing is shown by the brown arrow), advances along the second red arrow, wheels again (second brown shows the new front), and does it yet again, finishing with a free wheel to face the final brown. So the unit may advance in a semi-circle, as an example - also note that such a move would not be permitted to be a charge to attack, which must be in a single direction after any initial turn.


Unlimbered artillery only has one formation:

The front is shown by the brown arrow, and the permitted cone of fire is marked here. A stationary turn requires 1 hex of movement, and a battery which turns is thus regarded as having moved for the fire rules.

A single limber represents a complete battery on the move - a limber (like a general, and like skirmishers) has no front and may move or turn in any direction, without limitation - it may not fight, but it may get a Road Bonus if applicable, and may unlimber with the guns facing in any direction.

That is really all I wanted to write at the moment - I don't wish to get into detailed nitty-gritty of the rules (not least because much of it is not decided yet!), but thought that a discussion of how units may behave in a reasonably Old School manner in the world of hexes might be of interest.

I'll keep working on this, but I'd welcome any comments in the meantime. Bear in mind that this movement and manoeuvre system does work, and has done so for years with my old Elan rules - the new bit is attempting to graft it onto the C&CN combat system.

I'm sure that's quite enough for the moment.


  1. The tweaks are excellent. After my first game of C&CN I must admit I was a little put off by the lack of facing or zones of control in particular. Their absence seemed to introduce some non-period-feeling tactical options. Having been tinkering with some rules concepts for a long time I think the use of a quality rating system for reactive changes of formation is a really good idea, and will work very well for infantry going into square. I would allow infantry to form square voluntary in their own Turn as well as reactively when charged. Perhaps consider using the quality roll for the execution of the traditional tactic of using a column to approach to enemy before deploying into line at close range to deliver a volley before charging. I am not sure how this would work with the movement rules but might be fun to try.

  2. Trials going ahead in odd moments this week - first "oops" moment is realisation that road hexes in my C&CN game join the midpoints of the sides of a hex, so a unit in column marching nicely along a road is not facing a vertex. Hmmm. Can adopt a convention that they have to face a vertex when they come off a road or change formation.

    Have also done some work attaching skirmisher screens to close-order units.


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